Glencairn’s Minerva Victoria in Light of the Discovery of a 5th-Century B.C. Greek Original of Athena Nike

Glencairn Museum News | Number 5, 2014

In the 1999 catalogue of the classical collections of Glencairn Museum and in several other articles, I identified the classical marble female statue bought by Raymond Pitcairn in the 1930s as a Minerva Victoria—an eclectic Roman creation of the 2nd c. A.D. (Romano and Romano 1999: cat. no. 21, 15-24; Romano 1997; Romano 1999). There was nothing else exactly like it in the repertoire of Greek or Roman sculpture, and it seemed to me a pastiche of Greek and Roman elements. Now, some 15 years later, a 5th c. B.C. Greek original has surfaced on the art market in Rome, purchased by the Fondazione Sorgente Group, and under the protection of the Italian Ministry of Culture (La Rocca 2013; website of the Fondazione Sorgente Group). The Sorgente Athena Nike, as it is known, is so close in appearance to Glencairn’s Minerva Victoria that the two must bear some relationship to one another. The Sorgente statue is believed to have been in Rome since antiquity, probably looted by the Romans from Greece, perhaps in the 1st c. A.D., and brought to Rome to serve another purpose. Not only is Glencairn’s statue important as the only known parallel for the newly discovered Greek original, but this is a rare instance in which we can examine a Greek original alongside a possible Roman copy or variant.


Figure 1: The author, Dr. Irene Bald Romano, with the Sorgente Athena Nike in the exhibition space of the Fondazione Sorgente Group. Photograph by Kenneth Lapatin.


In April 2014 I was invited to speak at a small conference at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa with a group of specialists in Greek and Roman sculpture where I presented the Glencairn statue, and discussed the significance and relationship of the two statues. Preparation for this conference afforded me an opportunity to review my previous research on the Glencairn Minerva Victoria and to look at it with fresh eyes and new perspectives.

Comparison of the Glencairn Minerva Victoria with the Sorgente Athena Nike

The Glencairn statue, like the Sorgente Athena Nike, is made of the famous translucent Greek marble from the island of Paros, Parian “lychnites” (Romano 1999). The two statues are very closely comparable in size. The Glencairn Minerva Victoria is 1.12 m. in its preserved height, and I reconstruct a statue of around 1.35-1.45 m. in height or three-quarters life-sized. This compares very closely to the Sorgente Athena Nike whose preserved height is 0.93 m. but lacks the lower part of the legs. The maximum preserved width and depth of the two statues are nearly identical.


Figure 2a (left) and 2b (right): Frontal views of the Glencairn Minerva Victoria (left) and the Sorgente Athena Nike (right).


The Glencairn statue’s body is carved from a single block of marble, preserved from the shoulders to the bottom edge of the drapery in front, but the head, arms and feet were all carved of separate pieces of marble and added. A deep, rough-picked ovoid depression provides the setting for the neck and head that was secured with a small iron dowel; the right and left arms would also have been attached by tenons secured by dowels with lead. The head and neck of the Sorgente statue, on the other hand, were carved from the same block of marble together with the body.

There are some minor abrasions and missing fragments, including on the lower edges of the overfold of the garment of the Glencairn statue, but in general it is in remarkable condition, while the surface of the Sorgente Athena is much more worn. We can assume that the drapery of both figures would have been painted, though no traces have been detected on either statue.


Figure 3a (left) and 3b (right): Back views of the Glencairn Minerva Victoria (left) and the Sorgente Athena Nike (right).


Both the Glencairn statue and the Sorgente Athena Nike depict a female goddess wearing a belted peplos with a deep overfold and the protective cape of the goat-skin aegis down her back, held in place by a collar at the neckline in front and with a broad-faced, benign Medusa head serving as a kind of clasp—elements that identify the goddess as Athena or her Roman counterpart Minerva. On the Glencairn statue the aegis fits closely to the form of her back and is treated as a smooth surface, probably once painted, with a scalloped, upturned edge. Scales are carved, however, on the Sorgente Athena’s aegis (See Figure 3a and 3b, above). Deep U-shaped folds are represented on the front of the torso of both figures. On the front of the Glencairn statue’s torso, however, finer, crinkly folds are indicated by incisions—a confusing feature that suggests the lighter material of a chiton, rather than the heavy cloth of a peplos.


Figure 4a (left) and 4b (right): Left profile views of the Glencairn Minerva Victoria (left) and the Sorgente Athena Nike (right).


On both the Glencairn and Sorgente statues the bare side of upper torso is visible under the arms where the peplos dips low. On both statues, the peplos is closed with no opening on either side on the lower body. The drapery on the lower part of the Glencairn statue clings to the legs and extends behind her, rendered with a combination of shallow wavy incisions, as if of a chiton, and deep, dramatic folds executed with a drill. The sculptor of the Glencairn statue seems to have conflated the characteristics of the peplos and chiton—the costumes of Athena and of Nike. The lower part of the Sorgente statue is broken off so we do not know exactly how it was rendered.

The Glencairn figure is alighting with her knees slightly bent, the left more deeply than the right, and the right leg slightly in advance of the left with her feet fluttering just above the plinth on which she was supported, thanks to an elaborate mounting system under the statue. The Sorgente statue’s right foot might have been flat on the ground, while her left was slightly behind on tiptoe. In both cases, the body of the figure would have been leaning forward. The Glencairn statue has a more pronounced countercurve when seen in profile and leans more sharply forward, perhaps even more than its current mounting allows. The right arm of the Glencairn statue was partly raised, while the left arm was raised above the level of the shoulder. The Sorgente Athena’s left arm was also stretched upwards, while it is not possible to say much about the right.

There are several rusty red surface discolorations on the front of the Glencairn statue that I interpret as iron corrosion products, and possible remnants of contact points for a metal attribute: one to the left of the left breast, and one on the drapery ridge to the right of the hanging end of the belt. If these are remnants of points of contact for some object(s) or attribute(s), it was held diagonally across the body from upper left to lower right; I suggest that she held a garland or fillet (See Figure 5, below). For the Sorgente Athena, Professor Eugenio La Rocca has suggested that the figure held a wreath in the left hand, as if to crown a victor, and a palm branch in the lowered right (2013: pp. 32, 61 and see reconstructions on pp. 76-79).


Figure 5: Reconstruction drawing of the Glencairn Minerva Victoria. Drawing by Martha Gyllenhaal.


One major difference between the two statues relates to the interpretation of the presence or lack of wings. The Sorgente Athena has a 6 cm deep vertical cutting behind the left shoulder, as well as traces of a similar cutting on the right, which we can certainly interpret as attachment points for wings, either original to the statue or added later. On the Glencairn statue, Rhys Carpenter in his 1953 publication (1953: p. 44) interpreted some very shallow channels (3 and 4 cm. deep) on the shoulders for the attachment of wings of hammered bronze sheet that were in a closed position at the back of the statue. I am not able to reconcile these as attachment points for wings, and I believe the Glencairn statue had no wings—a major point of divergence between the two statues.


The differences in the style of the carving and the technical details of the two statues betray the differences in their dates. The quality of the carving, details of the technique, as well as the style of the Sorgente statue suggest a date in the 430s B.C., the period during or just after the completion of the Parthenon and its sculptural program on the Acropolis (La Rocca 2013: pp. 35-43).

The Glencairn statue is certainly of Roman date. The puntello, or measuring mound with a compass point hole at the center, on the outside of the left lower leg is evidence of its Roman date and that it was not a freely executed work but, rather, a copy or an adaptation that needed some measured points. Its extensive piecing, with its added head, arms, feet and complicated support mechanism, is more compatible with a date in the 1st through the 2nd c. A.D. The deep oval cavity for the setting of the neck is characteristic of the Roman period, generally in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. The Glencairn statue fits most comfortably into the period of the 2nd c. A.D.


This synthesis of Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, with Nike, the personification of Victory, and Athena in the guise of Nike are known. There are depictions of a winged Athena in Greek vase painting. There are also examples of a winged Minerva or Minerva Victoria on Roman lamps, terracotta figurines, and coins. Sculptural depictions of Minerva Victoria are few, however, and come, for example, from the Roman port of Ostia; the Temple of Apollo Pythios in Cretan Gortyn; the Temple of Apollo and Deified Augustus at Bulla Regia in Tunisia; and from the Sanctuary of Asclepius at Balagrae, near Cyrene in Libya (Gulaki, 1981: pp. 177-185). It is clear from the variation in the iconographical elements and the range in dates and styles that these other sculpted examples of Minerva Victoria do not spring from a single Greek source. All of these examples are winged, and none bear close similarity to the Glencairn or Sorgente Group statues.

Original Setting of the Glencairn Minerva Victoria and Sorgente Athena Nike

The degree of wear on the Sorgente Athena Nike suggests that it was displayed outdoors for a period of time. Professor La Rocca believes the Sorgente statue was part of a free-standing monument in a Greek sanctuary (La Rocca 2013: pp. 61-63), while another scholar suggested in the Pisa conference that the statue is from a pediment of a Greek temple, citing, among other details, the large rectangular hole in the back of the figure for the attachment to the back wall of the pediment.

The excellent state of preservation of the Glencairn Minerva Victoria, equally on the front and the back, suggests that it was displayed indoors or in a sheltered location or outdoors for a very short time. Perhaps the Minerva Victoria was set up on a theater facade where ideal sculpture was common. Or, it would have been an appropriate scale and theme for display in the peristyle of a private Roman villa or an imperial residence where it might have been regarded as an opus nobile, a copy of a Greek work of art to be enjoyed by a Roman patron. If outdoors, it may have been incorporated into a Roman commemorative monument of modest proportions, perhaps a victory monument, alighting on the prow of a ship. Or, could it have served as a central acroterion or as one of a pair of lateral acroteria of a Roman temple or civic building?

Lucien Demotte and the New York/Paris dealers of Demotte, Inc. (Vivet-Peclet 2013), who sold Raymond Pitcairn the Minerva Victoria statue between 1932 and 1934, indicated that it came from ancient Cyrene (in modern Libya) and suggested that it was acquired in the 1848 French expedition of Joseph Vattier de Bourville to Cyrenaica (Serres-Jacquart 2001). Although I accepted this information as likely in previous publications of the Glencairn statue, I now believe there are good reasons to question the reliability of that provenience. Unfortunately, we may never know the original setting of the Glencairn Minerva Victoria or that of the Sorgente Athena Nike in its Greek or Roman uses. If Professor La Rocca is correct that the Sorgente Athena Nike was part of the booty the Romans captured from Greece and brought to Rome in the Augustan period (early 1st c. A.D.), it may well have been erected in a public setting in Rome.


In conclusion, the relationship between these two statues is close, and one can conclude that the Glencairn Minerva Victoria is a Roman adaptation or variant of the Sorgente Athena Nike or another statue of the same type—but not an exact copy. There may have been other statues in the sequence of the transmission from the Greek original to its Roman counterpart, as suggested by the variation in some of the details of the two statues.

This is an interesting lesson in how much is left for us to understand about the sculptural corpus of the ancient world, about Roman copies, adaptations, or new Greek works. And, it is validation of the importance of publishing ancient objects in collections, even though they may lack provenience, since there are critical bits of information that can be learned and connections made. In the end, however, there is so much more that one would like to know about these two statues that we may never be able to uncover because of their lack of context.


I am grateful to the Fondazione Sorgente Group for their hospitality in Rome, for allowing me to examine the Sorgente Athena Nike, and for kindly sharing copies of photographs of the statue for this article. I also wish to thank Gianfranco Adornato and the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa for hosting the colloquium on April 3-4, 2014 and for their collegiality and hospitality. Photographs of the Glencairn Minerva Victoria were taken by Douglas Lockhard. Lastly, my thanks goes to Glencairn Museum—to former directors Martin Pryke and Stephen Morley, to curator Ed Gyllenhaal, and other Glencairn staff and Bryn Athyn colleagues and friends for their warm encouragement and generosity in sharing the richness of Glencairn’s collections with my husband David and me.

References Cited

Carpenter 1958 = Rhys Carpenter, “The Nike of Athena Parthenos,” Archaiologiki Ephemeris 54, 1958, pp. 6-55.

Gulaki 1981= Alexandra Gulaki, Klassische und Klassizistische Nikedarstellungen: Untersuchungen zur Typologie und zum Bedeutungswandel. Bonn, 1981.

La Rocca 2013 = Eugenio La Rocca, “Athena Nike della Fondazione Sorgente Group,” in Athena Nike: la vittoria della dea. Marmi greci del V e IV secolo a.C. della Fondazione Sorgente Group. Rome, 2013, pp. 30-71.

Reinach 1910 = Salomon Reinach, Répertoire de la statuaire greque et romaine, vol. IV. Paris, 1910.

Romano 1997 = Irene Bald Romano, “No Longer the “Pitcairn Nike”: A Minerva-Victoria from Cyrene,” Expedition 39, 3, 1997, pp. 15-26.

Romano 1999 = Irene Bald Romano, “The Minerva-Victoria of Cyrene in The Glencairn Museum, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania,” Archéomatériaux: Marbres et autres roches, Actes de la IV Conference internationale, ASMOSIA IV, Talence, 1999, pp. 21-26.

Romano and Romano 1999 = David Gilman Romano and Irene Bald Romano, Catalogue of the Classical Collections of the Glencairn Museum. Bryn Athyn, 1999.

Serres-Jacquart 2001 = Thibaut Serres-Jacquart, “Joseph Vattier de Bourville (1812-1854). Notes sur un explorateur de la Cyrénaïque,” Journal des Savants 2, 2001, pp. 393-429.

Vivet-Peclet 2013 = Christine Vivet-Piclet, “Les sculptures du Louvre acquises auprès de Georges-Joseph Demotte: de la polémique à la réhabilitation?,” La revue des musées de France: Revue du Louvre 63, 3, 2013, pp. 57-70.

Website of the Fondazione Sorgente Group (accessed 4/25/14) =

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